Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket
Lightweight and highly breathable waterproof protection.
According to Mountain Equipment the Women's Manaslu Jacket is ideally suited to 'serious mountain use' on the 'steepest faces'. Let's be clear - while it certainly is all that, I am definitely not. Luckily it is just as at home tramping around rainy country footpaths and snowy hillwalks. Is it overkill for this sort of thing? Perhaps, but you don't have to be climbing hard - or at all, even - to appreciate a mountain shell with top notch fabric and fit, and simple functional features. Thanks to the dreadful winter we've had so far I've thrown plenty of wind, rain, mud, snot and snow at it, and it has kept me very happy through a full range of testing conditions from playground to hilltop.
The uninitiated in the school playground (where I spend a lot of my week days) might just think that I have a nice, brightly coloured new waterproof. And on one level they would be right, but having tested its foul weather mountain credentials on the hills pretty thoroughly I know that the Manaslu is much more than that too.
First off the jacket is made of a lovely light three-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric with sections of 40D weight on the body and tougher areas of 80D for shoulders and arms, where you'd expect the most wear and tear when climbing. I was glad of these as we battled through thorny bushes the other weekend and slid around on rocky outcrops; I seem to have a knack for tearing lighter jackets, which kind of undermines the whole waterproof business. For its toughness the weight doesn't seem bad - 492g (size 14) on our kitchen scales, which isn't enough to have bothered me when the jacket's been stuffed in a rucksack. Whether it's warm and wet or cold and windy, Gore-Tex Pro seems to breathe really well even when I'm wrapped up in several layers and working hard.
This isn't just a man's jacket in a girlie colour, but a shell that's been tailored specifically to suit women. Everyone's built differently of course, but speaking for myself the fit is spot-on; it doesn’t feel overly large or baggy, and yet easily fits mid-layers and a synthetic duvet jacket underneath when needed. To be sure on the layering I did however go up to a size 14 from my normal 12. Thanks to its nifty cut, arm movement is unrestricted, which for me will be great when it comes to spring time scrambles (I'm not a winter climbing fan - have I mentioned?).
Length-wise it just about covers my bum when standing up but rides up as soon as I am sitting or bending. This isn’t necessarily a problem, especially if said bottom is protected by suitable waterproof trousers.
I've yet to feel any wind or rain penetrating the chunky two-way YKK AquaGuard WR zips (which by the way come in really nice contrasting colours – well done Mountain Equipment). The zips have easy to grab tags, even with mountain gloves on, and there are armpit vents should you ever start feeling warm enough to need them – I haven't yet.
Cuff tabs are easy to tighten while wearing gloves, with long Velcro strip for maximum adjustability, while the waist band is easy to adjust via an internal toggle at each side – a very effective and satisfying fix.
The Manaslu has four pockets: two side pockets - not huge, but roomy enough for gloves or hat - and one larger front (Napoleon) pocket which is very handy for keeping items you need to reach whilst wearing a rucksack or harness and opens wide enough to hold an Ordnance Survey map or similar. This pocket also has an embedded clip at the bottom for keys. On top of (or rather, beneath) all this is an internal mesh pocket which I would never have spotted had I not read the product blurb. Not sure what I would use this one for, except perhaps a smartphone to keep its battery warm. Even if you don't use it, this doesn’t add noticeably to the bulk or weight of the jacket.
The hood fits a helmet nicely, and moves well with your head, giving good visibility. Most importantly for me it also has a lovely high chin guard with soft lining to keep your chin and mouth cosy. When not wearing a helmet (that's most of the time in my case) the hood is tightened at the back so that it doesn't flap unduly in the wind, and looks as neat as you could hope. Its wired-and-laminated brim helps hold its shape in windy weather, giving you a decent peak to keep drips out of your face. There are two elastic side tags for tightening, with adjustment toggle thingumies hidden away in the seams. These are held firm so that they can be used one-handed, even wearing thick ski gloves. On jackets I've worn previously, admittedly all several years old now, toggles were on the outside and much more fiddly to adjust, so this seems a small but important improvement.
Overall I would give a big thumbs up to Mountain Equipment for a well-featured and well-built winter hardshell that's cut to fit the female figure. The price tag may be as top-end as the performance, but if you want one hardwearing waterproof jacket that covers everything from dog walks to hill walks, and from UK scrambles and winter climbs to the Alps and beyond, this is a solid choice.
Weight: 492g (size 14, on our kitchen scales)
3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro 40D fabric with 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro 80D fabric reinforcements
Size: 8 - 16
"Our premier Women’s hardshell offering total protection for alpine and winter climbing anywhere in the world."
"Combining GORE-TEX® Pro with our new Women’s Alpine fit this is a simple but tough shell ideally suited to serious mountain use."
"The helmet compatible hood and clean lines make the Manaslu an outstanding climbing jacket that comes into its own on the steepest faces."
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See this product at the Outside Ltd shop
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See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop